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In December 2015, the president of The Gambia announced that the country would transition into becoming an Islamic Republic. At its core, an Islamic Republic is a democratically governed state rooted in Sharia law.
Currently, there are four other Islamic republics: Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Mauritania. Historically, these countries have become Islamic republics as part of major political shifts aimed at reshaping national identity.
In 1979, as part of the Iranian Revolution, the secular, autocratic Shah was ousted from power and Iran declared itself an Islamic Republic. Iran's supreme religious leader reaffirmed Allah's sovereignty over the country, but declared that the people would have the right to elect their political leaders.
Afghanistan undertook a similar transition in 2001, after U.S. forces drove out the Taliban and the country formed a new constitution. Although Afghanistan has democratic government institutions in place, it's worth stressing that its constitution presumes all Afghanis are Muslim and does not specify anything about citizens who belong to other faiths.
For The Gambia, reports indicate that the country wants to move away from its British colonial past and has thus decided to become an Islamic Republic.
The Gambia now an Islamic republic, says President Yahya Jammeh (theguardian.com)
"The Gambia has been declared an Islamic republic by President Yahya Jammeh who said he wanted to further distance the west African state from its colonial past."
Iran 1979: A revolution that shook the world (aljazeera.com)
"The Middle East and North Africa continue to roil in the aftermath of popular uprisings - revolutions that continue to shape Libya, Tunisia and Egypt after the fall of the strongmen running the show."
Afghanistan: Branches of Government (afghan-web.com)
"Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic. Afghanistan's constitution separates the government into three branches - a powerful executive, legislative and judicial. "
Female government workers in the Gambia told to wear headscarves (theguardian.com)
"The Gambia has ordered female government employees to wear headscarves at work in a sign that the west African country is embracing a Muslim identity, one month after its president, Yahya Jammeh, declared it an Islamic republic."